Review- The Irishman (2019)

Review- The Irishman (2019)

‘I heard you paint houses’

Martin Scorsese’s latest film centres around Frank Sheeran who we first see in a care home for the elderly reminiscing about his life. He recalls his time in World War 2 and then after this lovingly remembers the scam he had when he is working as a meat truck delivery worker (he regularly siphons off some of the contents and sells it to local mafiosi) when he crosses paths with mobster Russell Bufalino who he is then reintroduced to some time later. This proves to be a turning point for his life. It’s through Bufalino that he is introduced to Jimmy Hoffa, teamster and celebrity. This marks another turning point for his life and the film’s narrative.

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CGI- the new Botox. The shocking WW2 flashback scene

I had to smile when I saw some of the major players from Scorsese’s canon of masterpieces reunited in this film. It was more than awesome to see De Niro with Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel again.

But there are also new actors who more than hold their own. Al Pacino is predictably brilliant and it’s great to see such a legendary actor under the direction of such a masterful director. Stephen Graham shows that he’s just as brilliant in a Hollywood film as he is within the quality TV productions that he’s starred in here in the UK.

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There has been much made of Anna Paquin only speaking six words in a three and a half hour film. When you see the film you’ll see why. Her looks and mannerisms throughout the film convey much more than lines and lines of dialogue as her role is akin to some kind of silent but all seeing sense of conscience or moral judge regarding her father’s dastardly deeds that she knows are happening even if he tries to disguise them to convey himself as a honest working man. Instead of basking in fake outrage (are we really getting to a point where numbers of words uttered by male and female characters will be tallied up and compared when it comes to movies?! Are we really getting that ridiculous?) how about thinking what an amazing actress she is that she can turn in such a genuinely awe-inspiring performance by just using her facial expressions alone and what is implied rather than said out loud. Y’know, by using her acting skills and stuff! There should be a mention here regarding how brilliant Lucy Gallina is as Peggy between the ages of 7 and 11.

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A woman of few words- because she doesn’t need many. Anna Paquin’s terrific performance

This movie is a sprawling epic that spans 1945 to 1990. The narrative shoots forward and backwards through time so effortlessly and effectively that it reminded me of Once Upon A Time In America (thankfully theres no panpipe music in this movie though). With this kind of timeframe being used it’s been widely reported that Scorsese used CGI to make the leading characters look younger in some scenes. Whilst this can be noticed in the first couple of scenes in which this device is used, it blends into the movie as a whole and is quickly forgotten about as the viewer gets used to it. It also becomes unnoticeable because the film is so captivating for the viewer.

There was a point early on in this film that felt very familiar. There is a bar setting with an old 60’s hit playing over the soundtrack whilst a plethora of mobster types are doing their thing. I thought to myself ‘Oh God, I hope this doesn’t turn into a GoodFellas clone.’ I remembered the good but not great Casino feeling like ‘GoodFellas Go To Vegas’. But The Irishman doesn’t play out like this. It’s a film that quickly veers into new territory plot wise whilst exploring themes such as age, reflection, mortality (on many levels) and how choosing to live such a thoroughly deplorable life whilst hiding under a veneer of respectability can impact the loved ones of the people who have chosen to take the dark path.

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I was lucky enough to see this on the big screen yet it was a very uncomfortable experience. The movie is 3 and a half hours long and whilst it’s an amazing ride it’s a painful experience in a cinema seat. My aching posterior was so bad through the second half of the running time that I felt that I was wriggling around more than an eel. But the length of the film was probably intentional for Scorsese as this was made for Netflix- home of the ‘binge watch’ to be watched in the comfort of your home on the comfort of your sofa.

One more touch that I loved about the movie were the captions that accompanied each new secondary character as it stated his name and how/when he died.

This movie might end up in the Guinness Book of Records also as I don’t think I’ve heard the word ‘c*cksucker’ used so much in one movie before. This is a great accolade in my book.

The Irishman is a cracking movie. Fans of Scorsese will love this, as will fans of intelligent and innovative filmmaking. There will be several raised eyebrows as to the level of poignancy that the film holds. Which again makes me think of Once Upon A Time In America in that the audience is made to feel sympathy towards a character who the film has shown to have committed some heinous acts.

4/5 out of 5 stars

 

 

 

Review- Doctor Sleep (2019)

Review- Doctor Sleep (2019)

I read Stephen King’s sequel to The Shining and thoroughly enjoyed it when it was first published. I was eager to see the film adaptation and if it was as satisfying as the book.

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It’s always a brave move to write a sequel to a well known book that is now considered to be a classic within it’s field. The film is seen as a true classic in the horror genre and is regularly in the Top 10 Horror Movies of All Time polls if not occupying the top spot in a number of instances. So, making a sequel to a film with such a lofty reputation was a brave move.

The film starts in Florida in 1980 after the events of the first film and Danny is still haunted and having his life affected negatively by the spectres he saw from The Overlook Hotel which are now haunting and harming him wherever he is. Dick Halloran reappears to Danny to teach him a valuable life less on how to mentally deal with this. I noticed that some of the darker details Dick talked about in the book aren’t here. Maybe the film wouldn’t have been a 15 certificate if they had been.

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Taking the plot up again in 1980 is a brave move. It works wonderfully as the plot points that are raised are crucial to the plot. All actors who are filling the shoes of people who have become iconic since the first film’s release do a great job. But it’s Carl Lumbly (yes, Petrie from Cagney and Lacey!) who is a true revelation here. He is Scatman Crothers reincarnated! It’s a performance that is eerily accurate and absolutely amazing to watch. Thankfully, Dick appears throughout the film to give Danny advice in the way as if he were Danny’s conscience or inner voice.

The film then comes forward to 2011. Danny is an alcoholic. An episode of how chaotic his life is is shown through an incident in bar were he gets drunk, gets into a fight with a fellow bar patron, beats him up and then hooks up with a woman. How chaotic his life is at this point is shown the morning after. We see him waking up next to a woman who has vomited in the bed they slept in, the memories of them doing coke the night before come flooding back and Danny running out on her (after maybe taking money from her to pay her back for her using his money to buy the coke with). Danny is then shown sleeping rough.

Danny then makes his way to New Hampshire. Its here that he meets Billy who he instantly feels a bond with. Billy in return sees Danny as having problems and sets out to help Danny address some of his demons- namely, his alcoholism as this is something that Billy has had to face also. Danny starts to go to the Alcoholic Anonymous group with Billy.

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Whilst this is going on we get introduced to a new group of characters known as The True Knot, a cult led by Rose The Hat. They are a cult whose immortality depends on them feeding off and capturing the ‘steam’ given off by children who also possess the shining when they are tortured and killed. Yes, Doctor Sleep is extremely dark. The sequence when the baseball player who is only 10 is murdered made for difficult viewing. But I’m glad that the film dealt with issues that were this dark rather than feeling like a lightweight and whimsical quick cash-in.

Danny starts working at an old people’s home. The resident cat there will instinctively spend time with the resident who is next to die. Danny sees this and so uses his shining to make the resident’s departure as painless as possible. He is using his shining again and as a force of good after years of forcing himself to repress and not use his gift.

Eight years pass. Danny is shown to have been regularly attending the AA meetings and appears to be conquering his addiction.

A young girl starts to communicate with Danny using her shining which is shown to be the most powerful example of the power that Danny (and later Rose) has ever experienced. She’s only a child but is shown to have shining stronger and more potent than any adult. Abra tells Danny about the 10 year old baseball player who she has visions of being killed. Unfortunately, Rose psychically ‘feels’ that Abra is watching this murder through her own powers of shining/second sight and this alerts her to Abra’s existence. Members of the cult haven’t been exposed to any really strong ‘steam’ for quite some time and cult members have shown to be starting to suffer because of this (we see what happens to members of the cult when this happens during the film as the oldest True Knot member expires into a cloud of steam himself). This makes Abra a target for the group.

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And that’s where I’m going to leave the synopsis. To give any more details away is to ruin the film for everyone!

This is a great sequel. References to the past film are subtly placed here and there (one prime example- the overhead shots of cars driving along in the same style as those used by Kubrick in the opening scenes of the original) but they feel relevant and not tacky. If some fans feel that the references are too sparse they should rest assured. The references start to become more frequent as the film progresses. The final act of the movie then takes part at the Overlook Hotel! It would be impossible not to have past references come in thick and fast at this point. And they do and it feels like old friends coming out to play again rather than a desperate attempt to milk some more bucks from a trusted horror classic. Everything that happens at the hotel feels like it’s being used in a plot that rightly calls for their use in progressing the story towards it’s conclusion.

Danny walking through The Overlook and seeing all of the old sites again sent shivers down my spine. There was even a scene that firstly made my jaw drop wide open and then almost reduced me to tears. I’m certainly not going to give it away but it’s astounding in it’s potency and power.

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There is plenty going on in the film as you can tell from the plotline. On top of all of this there’s even an implied bromance between Danny and Billy which is as intriguing as it’s subtle. Intelligent filmmaking is at play here. I predict that the kind of film analysis that was applied to the original film will also be generated from the material that lies within this film.

Doctor Sleep is also visually stunning and feels genuinely innovative in some scenes. In fact at some points I thought of the hypnosis scenes from Get Out.

Doctor Sleep is a film about addressing the past and confronting demons so that they can be laid to rest and people can progress forward. It’s also a film about closure and making peace with your past, the relationships therein and the wounds that until then never seemed to heal.

Doctor Sleep is a brilliant film and throughly deserves to be the sequel to such a revered and loved horror classic. And if Ewan McGregor doesn’t get a tip of the hat from The Academy then theres something VERY wrong happening.

Which makes me think. This years could have nominations for Joaquin Phoenix for The Joker, Zac Efron as Ted Bundy and Ewan McGregor as Danny Torrence. This years Oscars might be good for a change. Carl Lumbly definitely deserves to win plaudits for his extraordinary performance.

4 out of 5 stars

Jesus is King: Kanye West (2019)

Jesus is King: Kanye West (2019)

I battled to get to my cinema to see Kanye West’s new film Jesus is King through bitter winds and freezing temperatures.

I got to the cinema somewhat dishevelled but in one piece. This film was the perfect antidote to this. A gorgeous and very uplifting preview of Kanye’s new gospel flavoured album that was full of passion and euphoria that is contagious and sweeps you along with the whole vibe of the piece.

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The visuals are interesting and experimental. Images come in and out of focus and are framed what looks like a circular lens that acts as the frame for the visuals. This frame grows and shrinks according to what the music dictates. Architecture, nature and the actual gospel choir are all used to evoke imagery that gels brilliantly with the majesty of the music.

This cinematic curio exudes an element of artistic expression that is sorely missing with most mainstream, multi-million selling artists but never comes across as an artist trying his hardest to be ‘arty’. It all feels organic, natural and like a very accomplished concert film that turns the genre on it’s head. No, it’s not as brilliant as The Last Waltz or Stop Making Sense but it is still a brilliant artistic achievement rather than some vapid, overlong commercial for Kanye’s new album.

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A(nother) project that Mr West can be proud of. And it sure beats the vapid releases of other huge artistes who could only dream of something as ambitious as this.

I was lucky enough to see this in IMAX which suited both the visuals and the sound perfectly. Kanye, the pleasure was all mine.

4/5 out of 5 stars

Review- ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’ (2019)

Review- ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’ (2019)

When I first saw a still of Zac Efron as Ted Bundy I thought that whoever came up with that casting choice deserved an award. Not only do Ted and Zac look very similar but there was a sweet irony that the star of High School Musical had progressed to portraying one of America’s most notorious serial killers.

I first learnt of Bundy’s crimes after watching the brilliant 1986 TV movie The Deliberate Stranger which was released on two video tapes here in the UK soon after it aired in the US. This production showed that one thing is vital to any depiction of Bundy and his history- casting. Bundy was as all American as apple pie. He also goes against the stereotype of the type of person most think that a serial killer is. He was educated, handsome and extremely charismatic. Mark Harmon was cast as Bundy and this choice was brilliant. Harmon had been the star of many TV shows (most famously St Elsewhere)  and always as the dashing leading man. Harmon was using these very qualities to depict a man who used the same attributes for his own evil ends. It’s also worth noting that the man (Harmon not Bundy) who was voted The Sexiest Man Alive by People Magazine in 1986 (the year that Deliberate Stranger was made and aired) should be portraying the serial killer who had multiple female fans who decided that his good looks and sex appeal outweighed his alleged crimes.

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Since this TV movie there have been other movies regarding Bundy but none have been especially noteworthy in terms of either casting or content (it’s a shame that the adaptation of Ann Rule’s amazing book ‘The Stranger Beside Me’ wasn’t either cast or made better. It’s still, in my opinion, the definitive book on Ted).

So when it was announced that Zac Efron was to star in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Wicked and Vile as Bundy I just wished that the whole film would live up to the genius casting decision. I resubscribed to Netflix in time for the premiere date of 3rd May only to learn that whilst it’s being shown on Netflix, that isn’t the case in the UK. The movie could either be seen on Sky Movies (no thanks, Rupert Murdoch) or at one of the few cinemas which were showing it.

This, however proved to be a blessing in disguise. The film looks gorgeous and deserves to be seen on the big screen. In fact, there is plenty to like about this movie.

I had never heard of the 1981 book The Phantom Prince by Elizabeth Kendall which was written by Bundy’s fiancee about their life together. This book is still out of print- a golden opportunity for a reprint to coincide with this movie missed. Although there is an online copy available to read (Google is your friend…)

The fact that this story is from the perspective of Bundy’s partner proves to be a major strength here. This isn’t a straightforward account of Bundy’s crimes resplendent with depictions of them but rather what happened as seen through someone else’s eyes. This is a novel take on one of America’s most infamous serial killers and because of this feels fresh and original. Bundy is depicted as charming, charismatic and utterly human. It also means that when Bundy’s partner (and the audience) hears the details of Bundy’s crimes they appear even more shocking and appalling.

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Careful with that knife, Ted

Zac Efron’s depiction of Ted is rightly garnering plaudits from critics. His performance is multi-facted, nuanced and utterly brilliant. He portrays Bundy as not only as the All-American success story but also as a human being wearing a mask or shell. Check out the scene in the courtroom as Bundy is rising to his feet to hear the first of many verdicts- the trumped up show of confidence is shown to be a facade by Efron as we see that this event is so traumatic that it has actually mined down into the darkest and genuine core of Bundy. The mask has slipped as Bundy is about to discover his fate. Also, check out the scene where Bundy has just had sex with his ‘girlfriend’ after Liz leaves him. Momentarily we see the revulsion on Ted’s face when he has just shot his load and realises with whom. We see more evidence that Bundy doesn’t love Carole at all and is just using her so she will extol his innocence to the outside world. His skills of manipulation and control have been brought to the fore and we get to see behind the huge smile and good looks. We also then see the shell come back into place as Bundy starts to recompose himself and falsely reiterate his ‘love’ for her. She’s important to him but not for the reasons she thinks.

But this isn’t just a one performance film. The rest of the cast are great with Metallica’s James Hetfield and The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons also shining. John Malkovich is as ever brilliant in his role as Judge Cowart presiding over the Florida trial. He makes parallels against the fact that himself and Bundy have a great deal in common with Ted being a law student whilst he was committing his heinous crimes. It is one of the most poignant scenes in the film in which the judge mentions that Bundy had decided to use his considerable judicial skills for evil rather than good and that if he had decided to go down a better path Cowart would have loved to have witnessed these skills used in his courtroom.

The film also brilliantly examines the celebrity status given to serial killers. Bundy’s trial is the first in which cameras are allowed in the courtroom and so the trial will be transmitted to millions of homes across America. Bundy knows this and fully exploits it whilst using his charm to bewitch and enchant his audience. He puts on a dazzling performance, makes sure that he peers directly into the camera at multiple occasions to establish a bond with his viewers and even on one occasion, proposes to Carole live on air. It’s showbiz, baby.

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The courtroom as TV studio

The film also examines the phenomena of hybristophilia- the term used to describe the sexual attraction to serial killers. Ted always has a strong female groupie contingent in the courtroom. This will be multiplied many times over with the cameras catching the carefully cultivated performance and sexual charisma Bundy is having broadcast across America and indeed the world.

Whilst the film isn’t a straightforward chronological timeline of Bundy and his crimes we do get to hear about his alleged crimes throughout the film, especially the Chi Omega sorority house that he invades before going on a one-man massacre of several of it’s occupants. But even with the details of these crimes being peppered throughout the movie, the ending in which Liz confronts Bundy is still a shock to behold. She has been given a photograph of one of Ted’s victims by a detective that has brought home the true evil of his crimes. We get to see the picture of a naked female corpse which has had it’s head removed. Bundy still protests his innocence as he has throughout the duration of the film up until this point. He even offers the flimsy explanation that wild animals could have inflicted that on the cadaver. Liz demands to know the truth. We then get to see Bundy take off his mask altogether. He argues that he couldn’t tell her the truth as the phone they are using to communicate with each other is probably tapped by the authorities. He then calmly puts down the receiver he is speaking into and writes the word ‘HACKSAW’ onto the plastic screen that separates them. It’s an immensely powerful scene as it shows that Bundy is ‘Bad’ and not ‘Mad’ and that he knew exactly what he was doing and that there are no multiple personalities at play here.

This scene is also one of the movie’s major aces up it’s sleeve. Up until that point we had never seen Bundy commit one of the crimes he has been accused of or even admit culpability for them. Here he has. The whole celebrity status awarded to serial killers and that grimy culture has now been placed under the spotlight. We have been watching High School Musical’s Zac Efron charm his way into our hearts throughout the film. And we have been duped. For all of his escape antics, winks to camera and good looks, he is a monster and knew exactly what he was doing. Just as Bundy charmed his way into Liz and Carole’s lives for his own ends, he has done to same to us. The film has also done this without glamorising Bundy and his deeds or trying to substantiate them. The audience was kept in the dark regarding his crimes just like Liz was, which is fitting as this story is told from her perspective and not Ted’s. We get to see the full impact of the full truth and how it must have felt for Liz.

It also brings up the question of if he truly loved her or if that was just a well manicured and cultivated lie. The film also begs the question that what we have seen during the movie might not be the whole truth. One early scene involves Bundy being next to Liz in bed under the covers using a torch. When she wakes up startled he gives the explanation of reading a law book ahead of an exam and not wanting to wake her up. We later see the same scene replayed but the audience is awarded the knowledge of what Ted was actually doing- looking at Liz’s dormant sleeping body under the sheets. Was he aroused by her unmoving form? Was he aroused by his victims in the same way? Was he planning to do away with Liz?

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The mask slips

The main question I had after seeing this film was whether Efron is eligible to be nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal with this film being a Netflix production. Now just imagine that- Ted Bundy winning an Academy Award.

4/5 out of 5 stars